‘Proclaiming the goodness and care of God to people of many lands’

At an all-school Mass at St. Augustine School, April 13, Father Daniel Schomaker, pastor, presented a check for over $1,200 to Notre Dame Sister Mary Margaret Droege. The funds were the proceeds of a Lenten Penny War held at St. Augustine School, Covington. In gratitude and recognition for the many years of devoted teaching at St. Augustine School by the Sisters of Notre Dame, the students chose to donate the proceeds from the Penny War to the Sisters of Notre Dame Uganda mission to support the educational needs there.

The St. Julie Mission in Uganda, East Africa, adds another chapter in the Sisters of Notre Dame’s story of proclaiming the goodness and care of God to people of many lands. The St. Julie Uganda mission began in 1990 when the African bishops sent out a request for the Sisters of Notre Dame. The Messenger sat down with some of the founding Uganda mission Sisters Mary Margaret Droege, Delrita Glaser, Joell Overman and Janet Stamm to learn their impressions on the thriving Uganda mission and the East Africa Sisters of Notre Dame religious community. Additionally, Sister Mary Margaret is the author of the book “Approaching Holy Ground: The First Twenty Years of the Sisters of Notre Dame Uganda Mission.”

“In 1990 we received the first request from the African Bishops and made our first official visit to Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique before going to Uganda about a year later,” said Sister Joell.

This was in response to Pope John Paul II’s request to religious orders to make more of a missionary effort. The primary request of the bishop in Uganda to the sisters was for help with the development of education. The sisters selected the area of Buseesa in the Ugandan Diocese to begin their mission work.

“It was a rural area … the public school there had parts of the walls missing, no desks and maybe two or three books for a 70- or 80- person class,” said Sister Mary Margaret.

Sister Janet said a “mud building was the government school,” which was located across the street from where the sisters would eventually develop their convent, church and schools.

The Sisters of Notre Dame from Covington traveled together with Sisters from their California province to begin the mission. Many children in the Buseesa area did not go to school and most people were living in mud huts. The sisters decided to build a school when they arrived in 1995. The sisters met the builders, architect, and contractor discussing every phase of the building plans. These building projects included a rectory for the priest, a convent for the sisters and the school. In 1998, three years after beginning this mission, the St. Julie Primary Boarding School was established.

“Looking back on this whole endeavor, it is so obvious that God and loving providence was directing this whole thing,” Sister Janet said, reflecting on the events that took place on their original mission trip to Buseesa.

The sisters faced many challenges and obstacles during the first three years as missionaries, but, Sister Mary Margaret said, “each time there were obstacles, their needs were met and these obstacles became less important.”

Some of these obstacles included unfinished buildings, sisters dealing with sickness, no garden for food, lack of clean and fresh water and insufficient medical supplies. The sisters’ faith in God’s providence and goodness helped them overcome these challenges.

While the sisters developed wonderful facilities for the St. Julie mission, the main focus was education. Education was the key factor in creating opportunities for young children. The sisters were driven by faith to carry out their mission work. Having the ability to celebrate the Eucharist was something that Sister Janet said, “was inspiring.”

Sister Mary Margaret said it was very encouraging to see how many parents wanted education for their children. “They were willing to make any sacrifice … and sometimes when they would come, they would tell us what sacrifice they had made to help pay any part of the fees for the school.”

Because of the school’s remote location, “every student had to be a boarder, it was not come and go back home every night,” Sister Delrita said.

Which was a leap of faith for many parents leaving their children with these, “white women, because many parents had never seen someone like us before,” said Sister Janet.

The primary school started with P3, pre-school age three, and went up to seventh grade. The sisters said it was eye opening to see some of the cultural differences in the students during their school day.

For example, the sisters said that many of the students had no idea what to do at recess, because they had always worked, helping their families at home and never had the opportunity to play before. The sisters also taught the students English, while trying to learn the local tribal language, which was only spoken orally and had no written translations at the time.

Sister Mary Margaret said the students did learn English very fast. English is the official language of Uganda and its capital city of Kampala. Sister Janet said, “without English, there is virtually no way out of poverty.”

The sisters said it has been a blessing to see the fruits of their work, now some of their very first students are finishing Universities, several students have joined the priesthood, other students are now surgeons, nurses, and more.

“The goal that we set for our school was to train for Catholic leadership, so that someday when they finish their education and come back, they can lift up their area and be the leaders,” Sister Janet said.

Today St. Julie’s Mission has two nursery schools for ages three to five with over 100 students, a high school with students scoring in the top 20 of the 300 local schools, the original primary schools and a convent that is now run by over 70 African Sisters of Notre Dame. While the original sisters have not returned for missionary work, they are still in regular contact with the sisters in Uganda and send funds from the support of our local parishes here in the Diocese of Covington.

For information on the Uganda mission visit www.sndusa.org. The book, “Approaching Holy Ground,” is available on Amazon.